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Summary:

I’ve heard from a couple sources that fuel cell maker Bloom Energy is the supplier behind Apple’s planned massive 5 MW fuel cell farm to be built at its data center in Maiden, North Carolina.

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I’ve heard from a couple sources that fuel cell maker Bloom Energy is the supplier behind Apple’s planned massive 5 MW fuel cell farm to be built at its data center in Maiden, North Carolina. However, neither Bloom Energy nor Apple would comment on any potential deal. I’ve also heard that Apple already has a few Bloom fuel cells running on its campus.

But it would make sense if Bloom is involved. Last month, Apple unveiled that it planned to build one of the largest fuel cell farms at its data center in North Carolina. The planned 5 MW fuel cell farm is supposed to run on biogas (methane from organic waste) when installed, according to Apple. Bloom’s fuel cells are large boxes that suck up oxygen on one side and fuel (natural gas or biogas) on the other to produce power. That means that with the fuel cells (and a solar array that will be built) Apple’s data center will have a source of cleaner distributed power that isn’t coming from the local utility via the grid.

Bloom offers boxes capable of supplying 100 kW, which could translate into 50 Bloom Boxes being installed at Apple’s data center. Bloom has been in negotiations for similarly large-sized deals in the past, such as its negotiations in Delaware to build a 30 MW fuel cell farm (300 Bloom Boxes), and it has already installed 12 Bloom Boxes at Adobe’s campus in San Jose, Calif.

Apple is also touting the fact that its fuel cells will be run on biogas, and Bloom has substantial experience selling biogas-based fuel cells. Both Adobe and eBay are running their Bloom fuel cells on biogas. Bloom has also been the go-to fuel cell maker for Internet, telecom and computing giants’ experiments with fuel cells.

There are only a few fuel cell companies that even have the capacity to be in the running for such a deal. Beyond Bloom, there’s UTC Power, a division of United Technologies, one of the older fuel cell makers. UTC Power sells a 400 kW phosphoric acid fuel cell and says it has sold 50 of these 400 kW units to customers worldwide since 2009, according to its 2011 annual report. If you divide up Apple’s planned 5 MW (5,000 kW) fuel cell farm into UTC’s 400 kW integrals, you get 12.5 fuel cells — the math doesn’t exactly work.

FuelCell Energy could also be behind the deal, but FuelCell Energy tells me that “Apple is not a customer at present and there is not an FCE plant operating at the Cupertino facility.”

I’m not 100 percent sure of this news, but pretty sure. I’ll update this if I hear more or if I’m wrong.

  1. That would be good news for Bloom. Their fuel cell tech looks really interesting. Last I had heard only Google was using them, so its good yield learn that other companies see the tech as solid and efficient enough to start using. Seems like a perfect fit for cellphone towers too. The biofuel compatibility is also good news.

    I also hope that Bloom can develop a consumer friendly version of their tech for residential deployment. If it’s good enough for Apple, Google and eBay it’s good enough for me.

  2. I am not sure why this oversight is a common occurrence, and perhaps it is because Bloom has not publicized it, but they have TWO fuel cell offerings now. The original cell with a base load of 100kW — the ES-5400 — and the newer server with a base load of 200kW — the ES-5700. This information is publicly available on their website and could mean Apple would need just 25 fuel cells.

  3. Why not use 2 FuelCell 3000’s, the leader in FuelCell technology???

    DFC3000 (2.8 MW)
    FuelCell Energy’s DFC3000® system is the largest of the DFC® power plant fleet, capable of providing high-quality baseload power up to 2.8 MW with 47% electrical efficiency. The power plant consists of six matched modular skids, and due to its innovative design, can be modified depending on the power requirements of the facility.

    1. I agree with you!
      Photos: “World’s largest fuel cell park is open for business”
      11.2MW Fuel Cell Energy Fuel Cell Park

      http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/intelligent-energy/photos-worlds-largest-fuel-cell-park-is-open-for-business/10391

      check this out too!

      “New sewage gas station in Orange County, CA may be world’s first”
      http://abclocal.go.com/kabc/story?section=news/local/orange_county&id=8310315

    2. I.M.H.O. you are correct FCE is the world’s best, but Bloom’s original investors should be given a chance to get their money back, and competition is healthy for our species evolution. Only time will tell if Bloom has what it takes to be equal to number one FCE, it is sort of like comparing apples to kumquats at this point of history.

    3. I guess it safe to post this I believe FCE has a patent on:
      “Innovative approach to increase the strength of a thin electrolyte separator matrix”

      Success Stories
      Fuel Cell Energy
      WebSite:
      http://www.fce.com

      Project Title:

      Advanced Ceramic Fibers for a Carbonate Fuel Cell

      Technology:

      Under this SBIR, FCE developed an innovative approach to increase the strength of a thin electrolyte separator matrix, a critical component in carbonate fuel cell, by a factor of ten, while reducing the cost by more than 50%. This strength enhancement allows long-term demonstration of FCE’ s Direct FuelCell (DFC), an important step toward commercialization of this clean and highly efficient power generation technology.

      Benefits:

      FCE’s DFC is the most efficient fossil fuel power generators in the size range for distributed generation (57% LHV as opposed to <47% for existing products). It is virtually pollution free, allowing for easy siting and emits less greenhouse gas (carbon dioxide) resulting from the high efficiency. It operates at optimal temperature for employing low-cost commodity materials. It operates on a variety of fuels, for use in a wide range of applications and settings. It also provides high-quality heat by-product for additional energy efficiency. Therefore, it is expected that these unique power plants will have worldwide market penetration with positive impact on domestic employment and foreign trade balance. The electrolyte matrix successfully developed under this SBIR research increases life and availability of DFC and hence accelerates the commercialization of this clean and efficient power generation technology.

      Applications:

      It is being used as electrolyte separator in all FCE's Direct FuelCell (DFC) products to enhance robustness of the power plant that improves life and availability of DFC under field operating conditions. It will be used in FCE's three core products: a 300kW, a 1.5MW, and a 3.0MW, primarily in distributed generation, CHP (combined heat and power), and high-quality uninterruptible power source. Other applications of DFC incorporating this electrolyte matrix include 1) marine application, 2) specialty-fuel application utilizing ethanol, coal bed methane, municipal digester gas, and gasified wood and 3) ultra high-efficiency DFC/Turbine combined cycle system that can achieve electric efficiency greater than 70%. Benefits to Company:

      FCE has brought carbonate fuel cell from the laboratory curiosity stage to a product of immense potential over a twenty-five year period. However, a robust electrolyte matrix is required to achieve sufficient life and availability. Due to the success of this program, FCE was able to raise over $250 million to launch its commercialization effort. FCE currently has 12MW order on DFC. Also, due to the success of this SBIR program, FCE received a prestigious Tibbetts award from US Small Business Administration in 2000. FCE's DFC is a leading carbonate fuel cell product in the world and FCE, although a small business, has contributed to making the U.S. a world leader in fuel cells.

      Last modified: 3/3/2011 3:16:24 PM

  4. Jeff X Williams Friday, March 2, 2012

    Massive? Gimme a break!
    First of all … do you really want 50 boxes?
    Anyhow here is a nice link that shows a 11.2 MW Fuel Cell Park which by my understanding is half of what Apple is looking for…

    “World’s largest fuel cell park is open for business”
    http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/intelligent-energy/photos-worlds-largest-fuel-cell-park-is-open-for-business/10391

  5. Jeff X Williams Friday, March 2, 2012

    Correction this Fuel Cell Park is 2x what Apple is looking for…
    This park shown in the link is 11.2MW and Apple needs 5MW
    So figure 1/2 the size of this Fuel Cell Park vs. 50 Boxes…

    “World’s largest fuel cell park is open for business”
    http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/intelligent-energy/photos-worlds-largest-fuel-cell-park-is-open-for-business/10391

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  7. Not sure why Apple would want 50 boxes on their site. Both UTC Power and FCE would be better options since they take up less space. Also, since Apple has not given details about the installation, why assume that the size is exactly 5MW? It is probably just an estimate.

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